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What Are the Medical Uses of Polyethylene Glycol?

By S. Berger
Updated Feb 28, 2024
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Polyethylene glycol (PEG), is a chemical that has a wide variety of applications in the world of medicine. It is used as a base to manufacture certain medications, assist in drug delivery, and is also used as an agent in some medical procedures. PEG refers to a hydrocarbon molecule that can have a variable size, and different sizes can have different physical properties, giving this compound a great deal of flexibility in its applications.

One form of this chemical, known as polyethylene glycol 3350, is used to help treat constipation. For this use, it is administered as a powder and taken orally with water. Once inside the gastrointestinal tract, this compound helps to absorb water from the environment into stools, making them easier to pass out of the body. Like many laxatives, this compound is typically recommended to help treat occasional constipation, and should not be taken on a regular basis for long periods of time.

Some medications that are based on proteins may be combined with polyethylene glycol. Such a combination allows these medications to remain in the blood stream longer, thus increasing their effects. It also negates the need for frequent redosing with these medications, which in turn reduces the amount of negative side effects that these drugs can cause. Protein medications that PEG may be combined with include interferons that can treat hepatitis, and filgrastim, where this compound helps the drug to more rapidly repair damaged nerves.

Animal studies suggest that polyethylene glycol may play a role in cancer prevention. Research involving rodents has shown that PEG can help prevent carcinogens, or compounds that cause cancer, from damaging cells. Additionally, this compound can readily access tumors by moving through blood vessels that surround them. This property of PEG makes it useful in imaging tumors that would otherwise be difficult to access using conventional imaging chemicals.

In its role as a manufacturing product for pharmaceuticals, polyethylene glycol shows a variety of applications. PEG may be added to eye drops in order to lubricate the eyes and make the medicated drops easier for the surface of the eye to tolerate. Also, some gelatinous capsules, and other oral formulations of medication use this compound as an inactive ingredient, where it helps to form part of the external structure of the medication. More solid types of PEG can be used in manufacturing tablets, as well as external creams and lubricants that contain other medications.

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Discussion Comments
By anon339153 — On Jun 20, 2013

Please address the toxicity of PEG as well as these alleged benefits. To discover PEG as an inactive ingredient in one's prescribed medication, when every effort is made not to ingest or use personal products containing PEG, is rather disconcerting, to say the least. I mean, we're talking an antifreeze component here - FDA "safe" notwithstanding.

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